# Posts from the ‘All in one weather station’ Category

## How to calculate growing degree days (or thermal time)

If you’re not using an accurate weather station at your field site to gather data for growing degree day (GDD) or thermal time calculations, you should start now.

GDD predictions save you hours of scouting time and can increase yield because they’re a scientific way to know the best time for insect/disease control measures. In this chalk talk, Dr. Colin Campbell explains the concept of thermal time (or growing degree days) and shows two different ways to calculate it.

Watch the video

## Video transcript

Hello, my name is Dr. Colin Campbell. I’m a senior research scientist here at METER Group. Today, we’re going to give a brief primer on thermal time. When I talked to some of my colleagues about that, they mentioned that thermal time (or growing degree days) is really just a way to match a plant’s clock with our clock. It helps us understand what’s happening with the plant, and we can predict things like emergence, maturity, etc. And the way we do this is through this equation that is pretty simple (Equation 1).

We can sum thermal time (Tn) by taking the summation of day one to day n of the average temperature (meaning T max plus T min divided by two), minus a base temperature (Tbase), and then multiply by time step (delta t). And in this case, our time step is just one day.

So the whole analysis is simply the average temperature minus a base temperature. We get that value each day. And then we keep summing until it reaches a value that tells us that we’ve progressed from one stage to another stage.

A good example of this is wheat. When I was young, I did an experiment on this in biology. The idea was that for emergence, the wheat plant needs 78 day degrees from planting to emergence. So I used Equation 1, and when I had summed enough day degrees, I knew the wheat was moving from the planting stage to a post emergent stage. I went out and measured the wheat and it actually matched up well. Not every wheat plant emerged at that point, but the average was quite close.

So what does that mean in terms of graphical data? I wanted to show you what this equation actually looked like and then plant a seed in your mind for our next discussion, which will be, how good is this analysis? If you think about modern technology, like the ATMOS 41 weather station, you can get temperature measurements that are every five minutes or even every one minute. So wouldn’t it be better if we collected our thermal time information with this equation (Equation 2)?

We can take the sum over each day, like we did in Equation 1, but instead we take the integral of temperature at a small time step T(t) (like five minutes) minus the base temperature (Tb) and then just integrate this across the day. We’re going to learn about that in my next chalk talk. But for now, let’s go to this graph (Figure 1).

In Figure 1, we have temperature on the y axis and time on the x axis. The total time is 24 hours. This is our daily step, where we’re collecting this information about thermal time. And here are all the parameters from the equation: the maximum temperature (Tmax), the minimum temperature (Tmin), and the average temperature (Tave). And then this is a base temperature (Tbase). And to familiarize you with what we’re talking about, Tbase is the temperature below which progress is not made in the development of this plant. The progress is not reversed, meaning if it’s below the base temperature, the plant is not reversing its development, but it just doesn’t progress.

The black line is what I’ve drawn as a typical diurnal temperature swing. So it’s going from a minimum in the early morning up to a maximum sometime in the afternoon. And I’ve tried to compare these two approaches. One one side, we have the average temperature and the base temperature. This rectangle is our thermal time for that day. But the question is, with all our temperature data (like from the ATMOS 41) where we have pretty small time increments, could we instead just integrate over the day and then collect all the information on thermal time that is below this black line (the actual temperature, and of course, we subtract out the base temperature). How much difference does that make compared to this here? And what are the implications of not being able to measure our temperature terribly accurately? We’re going to talk about that in our next discussion, and I look forward to seeing you then.

## Take our Soil Moisture Master Class

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## Chalk talk: How to calculate vapor pressure from wet bulb temperature

In this chalk talk, METER Group research scientist, Dr. Colin Campbell, extends his discussion on humidity by discussing how to calculate vapor pressure from wet bulb temperature. Today’s researchers usually measure vapor pressure or relative humidity from a capacitance-based relative humidity sensor.

However, scientists still talk in terms of wet bulb and dew point temperature. Thus, it’s important to understand how to calculate vapor pressure from those variables.

Watch it now

## Video transcript

Hello, my name is Dr. Colin Campbell. I’m a research scientist here at METER group, and also an adjunct professor at Washington State University where I teach a class on environmental biophysics. And today we’re going to be extending our discussion on humidity by talking about how using a couple of common terms related to humidity, we can calculate vapor pressure. The first term we’re going to talk about is dew point temperature. I’ve drawn a couple of figures below that illustrate a test I performed when I was a graduate student in a class related to biophysics.

The professor had us take a beaker of water and a thermometer and put ice in the beaker and start to stir it. The thermometers were rotating around in the glass, and our job was to look carefully and find out when a thin film of dew began to form around on the glass. So we watched the temperature go down, and at some point, we observed a thin film form onto that glass. At the point the film began to form, we looked at the temperature to get the dew point temperature, which means exactly what it says: the point at which dew begins to form.

This experiment wasn’t perfect because there is certainly a temperature difference between the inside of our glass where we’re stirring with the thermometer and the outer surface of the glass. But it was a good approximation and a great way to demonstrate what dew point temperature is. So we can say that the dew point temperature is the point at which the air is saturated and water begins to condense out. We call this Td or dew point temperature. The beautiful thing about dew point temperature is that if you know this value, you can easily calculate vapor pressure and even go on to calculate relative humidity, as I talked about in another lecture

To calculate vapor pressure from our dew point temperature, we’ll call vapor pressure of the air, ea which is equal to the saturation vapor pressure (es) at the dew point temperature (Td) (Equation 1).

And as I discussed in my other lecture, the saturation vapor pressure is a function of the temperature (not multiplied by the temperature). It’s pretty simple to get the saturation vapor pressure at the dew point temperature. We simply use Tetons formula (Equation 2 discussed here), which says that the saturation vapor pressure at the dew point is equal to 0.611 kilopascals times the exponential of b Td over C plus Td (Td being the dewpoint temperature).

So let’s assume our dew point temperature is five degrees C. This is something you can find in many weather reports. If you look down the list of measurements carefully, it’s usually there. So the vapor pressure of the air (ea) is calculated by the formula I showed (Equation 1). Our first constant b is 17.502 and our second constant C, is just 240.97 degrees C. If we plug all the values into that equation, it ends up that our vapor pressure is 0.87 kilopascals.

Now there might be a variety of reasons we want this value. We might want to use it to calculate the relative humidity. If so, we’d simply divide that by the saturation vapor pressure at the air temperature. Then we’d have our relative humidity. More commonly we use the ea and the saturation vapor pressure at the air temperature to calculate the vapor deficit. So possibly in some agronomic application that might be interesting to us. So that is dew point temperature.

Now we’ll talk about another common measurement, our wet bulb temperature. This was much more common in past years where there weren’t electronic means to measure things like dew point or humidity sensors. And we used to have to make a measurement of humidity by hand. And what they did was to collect a dry bulb temperature or a standard air temperature. And that dry bulb temperature (or the temperature of the air) was compared to what we call a wet bulb temperature.

Researchers made this wet bulb temperature by putting a cotton wick around the bulb of the thermometer. This was just a fabric with water dripped onto it. Once that wick is saturated with water, the water begins to evaporate, and they would use wind to enhance that evaporation. For example, some instruments had a small fan inside that would blow water across this wick, or more commonly, two temperature sensors were attached on a rotating handle, so they could spin them in the air at about one meter per second (or two miles an hour). I don’t know how you’d ever estimate that speed, but that was the goal. This would help the water evaporate at an optimum level.

You can imagine what happens during this evaporation by thinking about climbing out of the pool. You feel some cooling on your skin as water begins to evaporate when you climb out of a pool on a dry, warm summer day. That’s water as it changes from liquid into water vapor, and it actually takes energy for this to happen (44 kilojoules per mole). That’s actually quite a bit of energy used for changing liquid water into water vapor. When that happens, it decreases the temperature of this bulb. If we wait till we’ve reached that maximum temperature decrease, we can take that as our wet bulb temperature, or Tw.

This wet bulb temperature is not quite as simple as our dew point temperature to use in a calculation. Here’s the calculation we need to estimate vapor pressure from the wet bulb temperature.

We take the saturation vapor pressure (es) at the wet bulb temperature (Tw) and subtract, the gamma (Ɣ), which is the psychrometer constant 6.66 times 10-4-1 times the pressure of the air (Pa), multiplied by the difference between the air temperature (Ta) or that dry bulb that I mentioned earlier, and the wet bulb temperature (Tw).

Gamma is an interesting number. It’s actually the specific heat of air divided by the latent heat of vaporization, or that 44 kilojoules per mole that I mentioned before. We can simply take it as a constant for our purposes here as 6.66 times 10-4-1. So let’s actually put it into a calculation.
Our example problem says find the vapor pressure of the air. If air temperature (Ta) is 20 degrees Celsius, the wet bulb temperature (Tw) is 11 degrees Celsius, and air pressure (Pa) is 100 kilopascals (basically at sea level). And just to remind us, this is the constant gamma (6.66 times 10-4-1). Air pressure is 100 kilopascals. We take this standard equation (Equation 4) and insert all these numbers.

So our vapor pressure is going to be this calculation from Tetons formula (Equation 2) and if you plug all those numbers into your calculator (notice our degrees C will cancel) we’re left with kilopascals. So our vapor pressure is about 0.71 kilopascals. So that is how we calculate the vapor pressure from the wet bulb temperature.

I hope this has been interesting. These are values that you may hear about. It’s less common today since we usually get our relative humidity from a capacitance-based relative humidity sensor, but still scientists talk in terms of wet bulb and dew point temperature. So it’s important to understand how we actually calculate our vapor pressure from those variables. If you’d like to know more about this, please visit our website, metergroup.com, and look at some of the instruments that are there to make measurements. Or you can email me if you want to know more at [email protected]. I hope you have a great day.

Download the researcher’s complete guide to soil moisture—>

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## A surprising culprit

Hypoxic floods can be catastrophic for river ecosystems, often leading to widespread fish kills or other alterations in fish community composition and behavior. Hypoxia in rivers is uncommon due to the high rates of re-aeration in flowing waters, and when it does occur, it’s typically associated with human pollution (high nutrient loading). However, in the East African Mara River, hypoxic flooding events are not caused by humans, but by hippos.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Christopher Dutton, aquatic ecologist at Yale University, and other researchers have documented frequent hypoxic floods and fish kills in the Mara river system. He says, “Our research shows these floods are caused by the flushing of hippopotamus pools. There are over 4000 hippopotami in the Kenyan portion of the Mara River bringing in over 3500 kg of organic carbon into the aquatic ecosystem each day. Hippo pools within the three tributaries of the Mara become anoxic under low discharge, while increases in discharge flush out the hippo pools and carry a hypoxic pulse of water through the river downstream.”

Dutton and his team aim to understand the drivers of variability in these hypoxic floods and how these floods are propagated downstream in order to predict how the frequency and intensity of these events will be influenced by climate and land use change.

## Unexpected patterns in dissolved oxygen

Dutton says they first noticed unusual patterns in aquatic health while working on another project. “When we started working in Kenya, we were trying to determine the environmental flows needed to maintain proper ecosystem function. We sampled from up in the forest down through the protected areas in the Masaai Mara and the Serengeti. We found the traditional indicators of water quality started to get much worse in the protected areas. This was surprising to us because we assumed water flowing through a protected area would be getting cleaner. But after we collected enough data, we could see that dissolved oxygen was crashing on average every 12 days for 8 to 12 hours and then rebounding. We hadn’t seen that in other rivers. This drew us to wonder if it was being caused by the flushing of hippo pools.”

Dutton says hippopotamus pools are slack water areas on the main river channel where hippos gather throughout the day because they don’t like fast moving water. He explains, “Every day they lounge in the water because their skin is sensitive to UV and gets desiccated in the sun. But at night and in the early morning, they leave the pools, go to the grassland, and eat tons and tons of grass. Afterward, they go back to the pool to rest, sleep, and defecate. They defecate so much organic matter into the river, it alters aquatic metabolism in ways that haven’t yet been fully understood.”

Dutton wants to understand how the organic matter and inorganic nutrients the hippos bring in are altering the ecosystem and what’s causing variability in the degree of hypoxia.

## What’s causing the variability?

Dutton thinks there are two likely drivers of hypoxia: time since hippo pools were flushed and the size of the rainfall driving the event. He says, “Because rainfall in the Mara region is highly localized within and among catchments, the biogeochemistry that causes hypoxia can vary among pools and tributaries. Understanding these dynamics requires fine scale spatial and temporal data on precipitation patterns across the catchment.”

Dutton is using ATMOS 41 weather stations and METER data loggers in three Mara sub catchments to monitor the intensity and frequency of rainfall during these episodic floods where rains can be highly variable in space. He’s also documenting hippo pool biogeochemistry along with discharge and dissolved oxygen (DO) response in the main stem and tributaries. He’s using a water quality sonde to monitor DO and turbidity. He says, “We’re trying to quantify these events in the various catchments because they are different geologically. One of them has more sulfur containing rocks which causes sulfates in the water. In a reducing environment, sulfates turn into hydrogen sulfide which is toxic to fish. So we’re trying to parse out what’s really killing the fish in these different catchments.”

He says the data show there is such high biochemical oxygen demand from the bottom of these pools, that when the organic waste and reduced compounds are flushed, they continue to suck oxygen out of the river as the waste moves downstream. This often causes fish kills in the river.  He adds, “We’ve seen thousands of fish dead after one of these events. But interestingly, the next day, it’s like it never happened. There are no fish anywhere on the bank. They’ve already been consumed by hyena, vultures, marabou, storks, and even lions.”

## Data collection challenges

Dutton says collecting precipitation data in East Africa has unusual challenges. He says, “One of our sites is close to a hyena den. They occasionally go and unplug wires. And one of our weather stations was taken by an elephant. I concreted it in, but the elephant took it and dropped it 100 meters away.”

The team avoids losing data by locating their measurement stations near tourist camps, where locals can watch over the equipment. Dutton says, “We build fences around each of the stations, and we concrete them into the ground, but our biggest strategy is putting the site close to a camp. The Kenyans that run the camps are excited to have a weather station nearby. They enjoy seeing the data and sharing it with their guests.”

## What’s the future of the research?

Dutton says the team is still working on collecting data, which is not always easy. He says, “This year, a 100-year flood occurred in the Mara which destroyed our water quality sonde. The water got so high the compression on the sonde popped out all the sensors. We lost two months of data. So we haven’t yet been able to look closely at the relationships between the rainfall, the different catchments, and these crashes, but that’s something we’ll do as soon as we can get to the data.”

He says this research is important because the Mara River system is still a natural river system essentially untouched by humans with much of its megafauna intact, which is rare. He adds, “The hippos are a very natural part of this river, and these processes we’re documenting help us understand how rivers may have functioned prior to the removal of larger megafauna. In the last 50 years, there has been large scale deforestation in the upper catchment. Some people speculate that this is causing more erratic flows. So what happens when the flows become more (or less) than normal?”

Dutton recently published a peer-reviewed paper on the detailed biogeochemistry of the hippo pools in Ecosystems Journal. You can read it here. And you can read the team’s first paper documenting these events published on nature.com here.

See ATMOS 41 weather station performance data.

Download the researcher’s complete guide to soil moisture—>

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## Rookie mistakes that ruin your research

Ever spent hours carefully installing your weather station in the field and then come back only to discover you made mistakes that compromised the installation? Or worse, find out months later that you can’t be confident in the quality of your data?

Our scientists have over 100 years of combined experience installing sensors in the field, and we’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do during an installation.

## Best practices for higher accuracy

Join Dr. Doug Cobos in this 40-minute webinar as he discusses weather station installation considerations and best practices you don’t want to miss. Learn:

• General siting and installation best practices
• Installation recommendations from WMO and other standards organizations
• Common installation mistakes
• How to identify installation mistakes in your data
• Microclimate variability and how to pick a representative location
• Troubleshooting at the site
• Types of metadata you should always collect

## More resources

Explore which weather station is right for you.

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## Chalk talk: How to measure leaf transpiration

In his latest chalk talk video, Dr. Colin Campbell discusses why you can’t measure leaf transpiration with only a leaf porometer.

He teaches the correct way to estimate the transpiration from a single leaf and how a leaf porometer can be used to obtain one of the needed variables.

## Video transcript

Hello, my name is Colin Campbell. I’m a senior research scientist here at METER Group. And today we’ll talk about how to estimate the transpiration from a single leaf. Occasionally we get this question: Can I estimate the transpiration from a leaf by measuring its stomatal conductance? Unfortunately, you can’t. And I want to show you why that’s true and what you’ll need to do to estimate the total conductance, and therefore, the evaporation of a leaf.

The calculation of transpiration (E) from a leaf is given by Equation 1

where gv is the total conductance of vapor from inside the leaf into the air, Cvs is the concentration of vapor inside the leaf and Cva is the concentration of vapor in the air.

Download the researcher’s complete guide to leaf area index—>

## Questions?

Our scientists have decades of experience helping researchers measure the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum. Contact us for answers to questions about your unique application.

## Data deep dive: When to doubt your measurements

Dr. Colin Campbell discusses why it’s important to “logic-check” your data when the measurements don’t make sense.

Wasatch Plateau

In the video below, he looks at weather data collected on the Wasatch Plateau at 10,000 feet (3000 meters) in the middle of the state of Utah.

Watch the video

## Video transcript

My name is Colin Campbell, I’m a research scientist here at METER group. Today we’re going to spend time doing a data deep dive. We’ll be looking at some data coming from my research site on the Wasatch Plateau at 10,000 feet (3000 meters) in the middle of the state of Utah.

Right now, I’m interested in looking at the weather up on the plateau. And as you see from these graphs, I’m looking at the wind speeds out in the middle of three different meadows that are a part of our experiment. At 10,000 feet right now, things are not that great. This is a picture I collected today. If you look very closely, there’s an ATMOS 41 all-in-one weather station. It includes a rain gauge. And down here is our ZENTRA ZL6 logger. It’s obviously been snowing and blowing pretty hard because we’ve got rime ice on this post going out several centimeters, probably 30 to 40 cm. This is a stick that tells us how deep the snow is up on top.

One of the things we run into when we analyze data is the credibility of the data and one day someone was really excited as they talked to me and said, “At my research site, the wind speed is over 30 meters per second.” Now, 30 meters per second is an extremely strong wind speed. If it were really blowing that hard there would be issues. For those of you who like English units, that’s over 60 miles an hour. So when you look at this data, you might get confused and think: Wow, the wind speed is really high up there. And from this picture, you also see the wind speed is very high.

But the instrument that’s making those measurements is the ATMOS 41. It’s a three-season weather station, so you can’t use it in snow. It’s essentially producing an error here at 30 meters per second. So I’ll have to chop out data like this anemometer data at the summit where the weather station is often encrusted with snow and ice. This is because when snow builds up on the sonic anemometer reflection device, sometimes it simply estimates the wrong wind speed. And that’s what you’re seeing here.

This is why it’s nice to have ZENTRA cloud. It consistently helps me see if there’s a problem with one of my sensors. In this case, it’s an issue with my wind speed sensors. One of the other things I love about ZENTRA Cloud is an update about what’s going on at my site. Clearly, battery use is important because if the batteries run low, I may need to make a site visit to replace them. However, one of the coolest things about the ZL6 data logger is that if the batteries run out, it’s not a problem because even though it stops sending data over the cellular network, it will keep saving data with the batteries it has left. It can keep going for several months.

I have a mix of data loggers up here, some old EM60G data loggers which have a different voltage range than these four ZL6 data loggers. Three of these ZL6s are located in tree islands. In all of the tree islands, we’ve collected enough snow so the systems are buried and we’re not getting much solar charging. The one at the summit collects the most snow, and since late December, there’s been a slow decline in battery use. It’s down. This is the actual voltage on the batteries. The battery percentage is around 75%. The data loggers in the two other islands are also losing battery but not as much. The snow is just about to the solar charger. There’s some charging during the day and then a decrease at night.

So I have the data right at my fingertips to figure out if I need to make a site visit. Are these data important enough to make sure the data loggers call in every day? If so, then I can decide whether to send someone in to change batteries or dig the weather stations out of the snow.

I also have the option to set up target ranges on this graph to alert me whether the battery voltage is below an acceptable level. If I turn these on, it will send me an email if there’s a problem. So these are a couple of things I love about ZENTRA cloud that help me experiment better. I thought I’d share them with you today. If you have questions you want to get in contact me with me, my email is [email protected]. Happy ZENTRA clouding.

Download the researcher’s complete guide to soil moisture—>

Download the researcher’s complete guide to water potential—>

## Best of 2019: Environmental Biophysics

In case you missed them, here are our most popular educational webinars of 2019. Watch any or all of them at your convenience.

## Lab vs. In Situ Water Characteristic Curves

Researcher Running A Hand Across Wheat

Lab-produced soil water retention curves can be paired with information from in situ moisture release curves for deeper insight into real-world variability.

Watch it here—>

## Hydrology 101: The Science Behind the SATURO Infiltrometer

A Forest With Fallen Trees

Dr. Gaylon S. Campbell teaches the basics of hydraulic conductivity and the science behind the SATURO automated dual head infiltrometer.

Watch it here—>

## Publish More. Work Less. Introducing ZENTRA Cloud

Researcher is Collecting Data from the ZL6 Data Logger

METER research scientist Dr. Colin Campbell discusses how ZENTRA Cloud data management software simplifies the research process and why researchers can’t afford to live without it.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 101: Need-to-Know Basics

Soil moisture is more than just knowing the amount of water in soil. Learn basic principles you need to know before deciding how to measure it.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 201: Moisture Release Curves—Revealed

Rolling Hills of Farm Land

A soil moisture release curve is a powerful tool used to predict plant water uptake, deep drainage, runoff, and more.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 301: Hydraulic Conductivity—Why You Need It. How to Measure it.

Researcher measuring with the HYPROP balance

If you want to predict how water will move within your soil system, you need to understand hydraulic conductivity because it governs water flow.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 102: Water Content Methods—Demystified

Modern Sensing is more than just a Sensor

Dr. Colin Campbell compares measurement theory, the pros and cons of each method, and why modern sensing is about more than just the sensor.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 202: Choosing the Right Water Potential Sensor

Electrical Conductivity

METER research scientist Leo Rivera discusses how to choose the right field water potential sensor for your application.

Watch it here—>

## Water Management: Plant-Water Relations and Atmospheric Demand

Dr. Gaylon Campbell shares his newest insights and explores options for water management beyond soil moisture. Learn the why and how of scheduling irrigation using plant or atmospheric measurements. Understand canopy temperature and its role in detecting water stress in crops. Plus, discover when plant water information is necessary and which measurement(s) to use.

Watch it here—>

## How to Improve Irrigation Scheduling Using Soil Moisture

Capacitance

Dr. Gaylon Campbell covers the different methods irrigators can use to schedule irrigation and the pros and cons of each.

Watch it here—>

## Soil Moisture 302: Hydraulic Conductivity—Which Instrument is Right for You?

Leo Rivera, research scientist at METER teaches which situations require saturated or unsaturated hydraulic conductivity and the pros and cons of common methods.

Watch it here—>

## Predictable Yields using Remote and Field Monitoring

New data sources offer tools for growers to optimize production in the field. But the task of implementing them is often difficult. Learn how data from soil and space can work together to make the job of irrigation scheduling easier.

Watch it here—>

## Chalk talk: How to calculate absolute humidity

In this video, Dr. Colin Campbell discusses how to use air temperature and relative humidity to calculate absolute humidity, a value you can use to compare different sites, calculate fluxes, or calculate how much water is actually in the air.

Vapor density tells you how much water is actually in the air.

Watch the video to find out how to calculate absolute humidity and how to avoid a common error in the calculation.

## Video transcript: Absolute humidity

Hello, I’m Dr. Colin Campbell, a senior research scientist here at METER Group, and also an adjunct faculty at Washington State University where I teach a class in environmental physics. Today we’re going to talk about absolute humidity. In a previous lecture, we discussed how relative humidity was a challenging variable to use in environmental studies. So, I’m going to show the right variable to use as we talk about humidity.

Absolute humidity can be talked about in terms of vapor pressure, which is what I’m used to, or in terms of vapor density. Whatever we use, we usually start by calculating this from a relative humidity value and a knowledge of air temperature. In my relative humidity lecture, I said that Hr (or the relative humidity) was equal to the vapor pressure divided by the saturation vapor pressure. And in most field studies, we’d typically get a report of the air temperature and the relative humidity. So how do we take those two values and turn them into something we could use to compare different sites, calculate fluxes, or calculate how much water is actually in the air? We’ll need to work through some equations to get there. I’m going to take you through it and give you an example so that you know how to do that calculation.

## Vapor pressure

First, we’ll talk about absolute humidity in terms of vapor pressure or Ea. If we rearrange this equation here (very simple math), the relative humidity times the saturation vapor pressure will give us our vapor pressure. And that vapor pressure is now an absolute humidity. How would we do this? Well, let’s first talk about an example in terms of vapor pressure.

Let’s say a weather report said the air temperature was 25 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity was 28% or 0.28. First, we’d use Teten’s formula which I talked about in the previous lecture. We’d say the saturation vapor pressure at the air temperature is equal 0.611 kPa times the exponential of a constant times the air temperature divided by another constant plus the air temperature. So in our case, the air temperature is 25 degrees, which we’ll add here. Remember saturation vapor pressure is a function of 25. So 0.611 kPa times the exponential of 17.502. In the previous lecture, I showed you that b value times 25 degrees divided by the c value 240.97. And then we add to that 25 degrees (this is for liquid water, of course, it’s 25 degrees Celsius because nothing’s frozen). If you were working over ice, these constants would be different. So we put this into our calculator or into a spreadsheet, and we easily calculate the saturation vapor pressure at 25 degrees C is 3.17 kPa. But we’re not done yet.

We have to go back to this equation that says the vapor pressure is equal to the relative humidity times the saturation vapor pressure. When we plug our data in, the relative humidity 0.28 times the saturation vapor pressure that we calculated right here, we get a vapor pressure of 0.89 kPa. And if we were calculating fluxes (we’ll talk about that in another lecture), this is typically the value we would use. But there are other things we can do with the absolute humidity values that might be useful.

## Vapor density

So let’s talk about vapor density. If we had a certain volume of air, and we wanted to know how much water was in that volume of air (for example, if we were going to try to condense it out) we’d more typically use this vapor density value. But how do we get from a vapor pressure that we can easily calculate from a weather report to a vapor density that would allow me to know how much water was actually in the air?

This is our equation that says the vapor pressure times the molecular weight of water divided by the universal gas constant times the kelvin temperature of the air will give us the vapor density. So I’ll take you through an example here, just continue on the one we’ve already done, just so you can see how to calculate it and to avoid a pretty common misstep.

## How to avoid a common error

Again, molecular weight of water is 18.02 g/mol. The universal gas constant R is 8.31 J/mol K. And here’s the kelvin temperature of the air. I’ve scribbled this in a little bit. That’s how I note the difference between something like this, which would be air temperature in Celsius and this air temperature in kelvin. So let’s go ahead and plug all these into our equation. There’s our vapor pressure. We’re just dragging that over here. There’s our molecular weight of water. There’s our universal gas constant. And here is the kelvin temperature of the air. So as we look at this, you immediately say, how do I cancel these units? The kilopascals and the joules are certainly not going to cancel as they are. But there are conversions we can use. A Pascal is equal to an Nm-2, and a joule is equal to an Nm.

So if we change this joule to an Nm, we change this Pascal to Nm-2, we have to pay attention here as we’re doing it that the kilo right there, don’t forget that because that can mess you up. So I’m circling that to make sure that we’ve got this. Now we cancel our N’s, and combining together we get a m-3. That’s what we’re hoping for on the bottom. The grams come out on top, they don’t cancel, but everything else does. The mols cancel mols, the kelvin cancels the kelvin there, and the N cancels the N.

And we come out with just what we were looking for, save one thing, which is a kg/m-3. And this calculation gives us point 0065. But since we actually want to do this in grams, because that’s more typical of what you find in how much water there is in air. It’s not a kg of water, but more in terms of g/m-3 of water, we get 6.5 g/m-3

## Check your calculation

One way you can check this calculation (just as a rule of thumb), is if we had a pressure of the air of 100 kPa and a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius, the multiplier to get from your vapor pressure to your vapor density is about 7.4 or so. We’ll just say around 7.0. And we’ll do a quick mental calculation, 0.89 times 7, that should give us something around 6.0. So our answer should be around 6.0, and it is. It’s certainly no orders of magnitude off. So we’ve got at least close to the right answer, by doing a mental check, and we can say this conversion works.

If you want to learn more about instrumentation to measure all kinds of atmospheric parameters, please come to our website, www.metergroup.com or you can email me to chat more about this: colin.campbell@metergroup. com.

## Take our Soil Moisture Master Class

Six short videos teach you everything you need to know about soil water content and soil water potential—and why you should measure them together.  Plus, master the basics of soil hydraulic conductivity.

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## What plant hydraulics tell us about drought response

Trees are merchants; they sell water to the atmosphere in exchange for the CO2 they need to photosynthesize sugars. The exchange rate or ‘water-use efficiency’ that drives the plant carbon-water market place is a function of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Thus, theoretically human carbon emissions, which have increased atmospheric CO2 by 40% since 1850, should increase plant water use efficiency, resulting in “CO2 fertilization” of our forests and crops.

La Plata Mountains, where the study gradient is located

However, evidence for CO2 fertilization is extremely mixed. That’s why Leander Anderegg, postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, and his research team are performing a two-step experiment to determine if increased atmospheric CO2 conditions increase plant water-use efficiency. The team is leveraging a natural elevation gradient in temperature, vapor pressure deficit, and precipitation on a southwestern Colorado mountain to understand:

1. How much physiological variation is on a single mountain slope between two species
2. How that variation ultimately affects the potential for CO2 fertilization and differential vegetation responses to rising CO2

For five years, the team has worked on quantifying how two tree species (Ponderosa Pine and Trembling Aspen) can shift their physiology going from low elevation (hot, high vapor pressure deficit environments) up to high elevation (wet, cooler, low vapor pressure deficit environments). They want to understand what that means for each species’ water relations, drought vulnerability, and biogeography in a drying and warming climate.

## Quantifying weather parameters

Anderegg and his team use METER all-in-one weather stations to quantify exactly how much the local environment changes from the bottom to the top of the mountain. Anderegg says he’s been surprised at how influential vapor pressure deficit changes are on the tree species. He says, “When we compare Aspens to Ponderosas, we’ve found that the difference in atmospheric demand is a big part of the story, particularly in how they respond to drought stress. There is more atmospheric demand at the bottom of the mountain. So one key objective was to quantify how much drier the air was during the peak mid-summer dry down for most of the species. This was critical then to infer how stomata were responding to that gradient and water stress. It’s really difficult in these wide field plots to actually measure transpiration. But with physiological measurements of leaf water potential, hydraulic conductivity, and the vapor pressure deficit from relative humidity sensors, we could then infer how open the stomata were.”

Coring a ponderosa to measure its growth rate

Anderegg used a pressure chamber to measure leaf water potential and also did a lot of shotgun sampling to measure the hydraulic conductivity in twigs. He describes the process, “I went out at 3 am with a 20 gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot to shoot off branches. We pulled water through the branches by applying a vacuum to a pressure chamber and then inserting one end of the branch. To get the hydraulic conductivity of the branch, we measured how quickly the water moved into the chamber.” (Kolb et al 1996)

## Vapor pressure deficit was surprising

Anderegg says vapor pressure deficit changes across the elevation gradient were much stronger than he expected. He says, “It was pretty impressive that as you drove up this elevation gradient, the vapor pressure deficit differed by approximately 1.5 kPa. In the crop realm, a vapor pressure deficit of 2 kPa is pretty intense, but we went from a bit over 1 kPa near the top of the mountain to more like 3 kPa down at the drier bottom, which translates to a remarkably different water-use efficiency.

## Two species—two adaptation strategies

When asked what they’ve learned, Anderegg says the difference between the two tree species is pretty amazing. “We’ve seen that the two species have extremely different responses to drought stress. Aspen keeps its stomata open, even at the bottom of the mountain where it’s really dry. It just alters its hydraulic system to try and keep up with it. The Ponderosa, however, does not alter its hydraulic system. It just closes its stomata until it rains in the fall.”

An aspen that died following a drought while it’s neighboring ponderosa lived

Anderegg adds that the two different water relations strategies line up with the type of biogeographical shifts occurring in the two species as the Southwest dries out. He says, “Aspen is sort of a ‘grin-and-bear-it’ species that toughs out drought while Ponderosa is a ‘sit it out’ sort of species. For the last 15 years, the Aspen have been creeping uphill but not gradually. Intermittent droughts are slowly trimming the driest Aspen up the hill in fits and starts. Ponderosa are better at dealing with extreme droughts because they preserve their hydraulic systems. We have not seen mortality pushing the Ponderosa uphill. However, there’s essentially no Ponderosa recruitment (new tree starts) at the bottom of the hill, and the growth rates of adults are a quarter of the rates at the top of the hill. So we think the Ponderosa will move uphill following mean climate change and not in fits and starts. They’ll gradually die off at the bottom and not be replaced by young recruits which will cause them to move uphill in a more gradual manner.”

Dying aspens in the middle of a low elevation aspen stand

## Transitioning toward the future

In the years ahead, Anderegg hopes to move into the second phase of the experiment: testing how these two species will respond to CO2 fertilization. He says, “We need to make these measurements over multiple years and many environmental conditions to start to get at how much plasticity any individual plant can manifest (plasticity is the amount that a plant can change its physiology in response to climate change. So if this condition happened, how likely is the plant to respond in a particular way over time) and what the long term trajectories are in these hydraulic traits. We’ve gotten measurements at the height of a significant drought and then another medium year following that drought. We want to transition toward a long-term monitoring perspective that hopefully will give us the information we need to start thinking about how CO2 then plays in.”

You can learn more about Leander Anderegg’s research here: ldlanderegg.com

Reference

Kolb KJ, Sperry JS, Lamont BB (1996) A method for measuring xylem hydraulic conductance and embolism in entire root and shoot systems. Journal of Experimental Botany. 47:304, pg 1805-1810

See ATMOS 41 weather station performance data

## Chalk Talk: Why is Humidity Relative?

Dr. Colin Campbell, a senior research scientist at METER Group, as well as adjunct faculty at Washington State University teaches about relative humidity.

Watch the video to find out why we use the term relative humidity and why comparing RH at different research sites can be a challenge.

## Why is humidity relative?

Hi, I’m Dr. Colin Campbell. I’m a senior research scientist here at METER Group, as well as adjunct faculty up at Washington State University. And I teach a class in environmental biophysics. And today, we’re going to be talking about relative humidity. Have you ever looked at a weather report and wondered, what do they mean by the term relative? Why aren’t we talking about absolute things? And so today I’m going to talk about what is relative humidity? Well, relative humidity we’re going to define here as just hr. And hr is equal to the partial pressure of water vapor in air divided by the saturation vapor pressure or the maximum possible partial pressure of water in air as a function of temperature. So this is relative because anytime we have a partial pressure of water vapor, we’re always dividing it by the maximum possible water vapor that could be in the air at any point.

## Comparing RH at different sites is a challenge

So, why would relative humidity be such a challenge for us as scientists to use in comparing different sites? I wanted to talk about that so we can focus in here on this saturation vapor pressure. Over here we have Tetens equation. This says that the saturation vapor pressure, which is a function of air temperature is equal to 0.611 kPa times the exponential of a constant “b” times the air temperature divided by another constant “c” plus the air temperature. So at any point, depending on the air temperature, we can calculate the saturation vapor pressure, and then we can put it back into this equation and get our relative humidity. There are two situations we might think about for calculating our saturation vapor pressure. The most typical is this one: where that constant “b” is 17.502 degrees C. And the constant “c” is 240.97 degrees C (the units on this are degrees C, so these will cancel). If we’re over ice, those constants will be different: “b” would be 21.87 degrees C and “c” would be 265.5 degrees C.

So as I mentioned, relative humidity is a challenging variable to use in research because while vapor pressure (ea) (the vapor pressure of the air) is somewhat conservative across a day, the saturation vapor pressure (with respect to air temperature), this changes slowly with temperature across the day. So if we graphed temperature on one axis and the relative humidity on the other axis, we might during a typical day have a temperature range that looks somewhat like this. And even if the actual vapor pressure “ea” wasn’t changing, we’d see a relative humidity trend that looked like this: only changing because of air temperature. And because of that, if we wondered how do I compare the water in the air at one research site, for example, with the water in the air at another research site? We might be inclined to average them. But because of this trend, the average of the relative humidity at any site tends to be around 0.60 to 0.65 and therefore will be totally irrelevant in the literature.

So we need to speak in absolutes, and in my next lecture, I’m going to go into what we can do to calculate that absolute relative humidity. If you want to know more about making measurements in the atmosphere, go to metergroup.com, look at our atmospheric instrumentation, and you can learn more from there.